Aspen

“Child, do you see the trees?”

“Which ones, Oldheart?” They asked the memory-filled soul.

“They are lofty, soaring, colored like bones below and sunrise above. Do you see them?”

“I do now. I like them.”

“Ah, from afar, yes, I admire them also. Let us approach and perceive their stories; that is, if you’re content with a gently swaying walk on the path that invites us?”

“Why, certainly, Oldheart. You always do show me the most wondrous things; the hidden away things, like dusty story books lost to the hunger of a basement. No difficult walk will stop me.”

So they walked, hand in hand. The path rising, then falling, the rocks protruding like animal traps in the dried mud; they saw false paths that led to thistles and brambles, but Oldheart, like a compass, knew the true path and followed it like a river in a gorge.

The path swept them along like a falling leaf carried by the wind. Gently rocking their bodies into a sway that led them down, down, down to the land of long bones and high foliage.

They walked to the base of a tree, looking at it like a child looks at a parent.

Oldheart raised a mature and certain hand and rested it on the tree’s most featureless, ash colored bark.

“Did you know they can see us?”

“The trees?” The child uncertainly cocked their head.

“Yes.” Oldheart reverently placed the pad of their first finger on the black scar that clung to the elongated trunk like a cancer, or a priceless painting.

“How can they see us, Oldheart?” The child asked; this time though, with a note of fear playing like a muted undercurrent.

“Their eyes. They’re grown. They do not see at first, as babies. As time flows, thus do their experiences in this world. See, and feel.” Oldheart grabbed the child’s hand abruptly, not with anger, but like a guide on a dangerous path might, with confidence and assurance.

The child wondered as their fingers were kneaded by the lid of the eye on the tree. Oldheart pulled the child’s hand and placed it in the dark eclipse that defined the center of the eye. The child knew, at least, hoped they knew, that the eye would remain as it was; but the uncanny feeling nestled behind their sternum whispered otherwise; the feeling said “I will swallow you up. I will consume you. I will keep you here forever if you so desire.

Oldheart continued placing the child’s hand on different protrusions and nodules of deep black.

“Are the eyes speaking to you, child?”

“They are. But when I try to speak back they remain quiet. Why?”

“Because they do not converse. They remain scars and mementos. See, the limbs scattered around us like ancestor’s skeletons. Limbs that after having fallen off, leave the eye to look out, to be witnessed, to be learned from. Those limbs have lived their lives, and now go to the ground to return. They are a testament to those that might listen. A trophy of storms weathered, fires recovered from, and animals protected and nurtured. They are remnants of past lives. Lives that are finished, but still remembered.

“Will I become a branch like that, Oldheart?”

“No. Not until you are ready for the Earth to reclaim you.”

Oldheart let go of the child’s arm and set a hand atop the child’s head.

“Do not forget to look up. Down here, with us, is the past. Up, reaching into the sky, that’s the present and the future and the unknown. You are those flittering colors reaching out from the ends of the branches, and you will always be them, even as the ground below grows further and further away. The eye remembers, and the branch made it’s decision long ago, but you aren’t down here with those. You are up there, in the company of the birds, and caressing the clouds. Your present is always rising above the past. But the memories, the scars, are still a part of you.”

“I see.” The child said, and Oldheart knew they did.

“I am pleased. Remember, never forget what part of this tree you are; because if you do, the eyes will consume you.”

The child shivered. Did I tell Oldheart what the tree made me feel? How did Oldheart know?

The child asked what happened if you forgot. Oldheart made a sweeping motion with his hand toward the sky: “It all becomes black. It all becomes memory, even the leaves. For a new growth to break out of that shell of memory requires all the trees to rustle their leaves in unison. It is a difficult task, even for trees.”

The child nodded pensively.

“Are you ready to return?” Oldheart asked.

“Yes. Please. Thank you.” The child put their smooth, soft hand into Oldheart’s wrinkled and toughened grasp and they turned in a semi-circle. With their backs to the trees, they began to walk back up. Up, up, up, carried like a leaf by the wind, back to their own.

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